Today I decided to go all in and make sure that I finished a story. It helped that it was The Writing Tribe co-working day, and that the class I was in let out just as the session began. I wanted to write something that wouldn’t necessarily reference snakes or leather or anything like that, so I did a quick internet search to see what the word would turn up. I had to click to the second page of results, past Slither.io and Slither, the Movie, to reach a post for a review of Slither, the board game. It’s a game that features moving pieces from one end of the board to another, and that’s all it took for my brain to start connecting the dots to a new flash fiction horror piece. Again, these are first draft, anything goes, let’s play with what turns up posts, so here is what came out!
Day 23: Slither
The game didn’t seem that hard. In the window that popped up on the glowing screen, it was a five-by-five square box with one black circle and one white circle positioned next to each other at the top center of the box.
The instructions materialized in other pop up.
Welcome to Slither, the game where you slide your way to victory! Find your way around your opponent to the other side of the board. First one there, wins!
That was it.
Mel was in the middle of a language lesson and had run out of extra points, so she had clicked on the option to watch an ad and gain more hearts. This game, Slither, had popped up. Usually Mel let the required time elapse and then just clicked it closed to go back to her Gaelic lesson, but this time, she let her finger hover over the screen.
The touchpad on this new phone was super sensitive. Without even touching the glass, the game had popped up with its easy instructions.
Curious, Mel grabbed the black icon with her thumb and tried to move it. She couldn’t get it to go straight forward; when she tried that and released the ball, the little icon slipped back to its starting position. Next, she tried moving diagonally. This time, she had no problem, depositing the little black ball in front of the white one.
Having played more than her fair share of mindless phone games, Mel expected to see the white ball go around, heralding a game of leapfrog to the end of the square.
Not much of a challenge. Whoever starts first wins.
She looked for the “x” that would close the ad and take her back to her language app, but it had disappeared. Even touching the tip of her finger to the screen didn’t bring it up. Instead, on the screen, the white ball jumped over the black one.
The moment the white ball landed on the other side, the entire screen turned a bright red, even the edges outside the game’s window.
“Ah, fuck.” Mel frantically tried to close the window, cursing again as the red screen persisted. “What the hell is this?”
The red faded and cleared, and the screen was back. This time, the game had multiplied and there were ten squares across each side. Two black balls and two white balls nestled at the top this time. A message popped up.
Welcome to Slither, the game where you slide your way to victory! Find your way around your opponent to the other side of the board. Don’t be the last one there!
“Don’t be the last one there?” Mel read aloud. “Forget this.”
She pressed the buttons that hard started the phone, hoping that turning it off and bringing it back up afterwards would fix whatever issue the game had caused on her phone. She was definitely going to have to submit something to the language app, letting them know that one of their advertisements was some kind of malware.
“Ah, fuck.” She muttered the words, pitching her voice low so her neighbors wouldn’t hear and complain again about profanity in the workplace.
The lockscreen appeared just fine, and she used her thumb to open it up. The first screen of apps appeared as normal, free and clear, but after a few seconds, the familiar grid pattern of the game faded in and took over the screen.
“Crap. I’m gonna lose my streak.”
Mel turned the phone all the way off and tossed it on her desk. She was going to have to get it looked at, and anyway, her lunch break was over. Powering up her work computer, she opened the spreadsheet she had been working on after that morning’s meeting.
The familiar grid lines and cross-sections popped up, color coded and organized, a complete map of her department’s expenditures by the month. It would be a matter of an hour or so to match the expenditures to the receipts, review for anything weird or over the approved limit, sign it, and send it forward. Then, maybe she could grab an afternoon coffee and see about calling someone about the phone.
Her cursor froze on the screen. She moved the mouse around, then attempted to use the mouse pad to unfreeze the little arrow.
“C’mon, dammit.” She glared at the screen. What is it with technology—always at the worst time. Maybe it was time to get that afternoon coffee.
A familiar square started forming on the screen, pale at first, then gradually becoming less and less translucent, until it took up almost the entire screen. This time, the squares had grown yet again, to a twenty-by-twenty box, with three black and three white balls at the top, arranged in an alternating pattern.
Welcome to Slither!
Mel stood up, looking over the three-quarter gray fabric walls that portioned off her little cubicle from the others on the floor. Is someone fucking with me? She couldn’t think of who it might be. Nor, looking around, did she see anyone popping their head up, casting an eye around the cube farm to see who might be reacting to their dumb prank.
Sitting back down, she hovered her fingers over the alt-ctrl-delete button sequence. She’d lose some work shutting down like that, but it was better that than yet another lecture from the geeks in the IT department. Mel wasn’t even sure how playing a game on her phone had infected her computer, but she didn’t want to hear about it.
Without warning, a high-pitched BEEEEEE— erupted from the computer speakers.
Mel panicked, and tried to turn it off, turn the monitor off, turn the volume down, unplug the computer— The sound went on, each fraction of a second seeming like a year. Finally, she lunged for the mouse, clicked on one of the black balls and dragged it one diagonal space.
Like magic, the sound shut off.
“What the heck was that, Mel?” A head popped over the cube wall. Stan, her cube mate on the other side. “You get some feedback?”
She smiled, still feeling the heat in her cheeks and the shake of the post-adrenaline rush. “Yeah. Something. Feedback. Ugh. Technology.”
Stan chuckled. “It’s the worst.” Shaking his head, he disappeared from view.
On the screen, Mel looked where she had moved the ball. She had grabbed it and shifted it to the side, advancing, yet out of the path of the white ball. On screen, one of the center white balls pulsed, then moved, settling directly in front of one of her black balls. Mel, remembering the first game, clicked on the black ball and leapfrogged it over the white one. With a sickening crunch, the white one dissolved and faded.
Mel breathed deeply. She didn’t know what was going on, but if all she had to do was play a game to get her computer back, she could do that. Carefully, she moved another ball, staying out of the line of attack of the white balls.
Slowly, the white and black balls advanced down the screen, Mel mostly in the lead. As her first ball reached the end of the square, she moved it into the line, expecting—hoping—to see it release her from the screen. Instead, another white ball moved into a new position.
“Crap.” Mel closed her eyes. Okay, no problem, the rest of the balls are almost there. Christ.
Without thinking, she moved her black ball into the path of the white one. This time, the white one wasted no time in jumping her piece. The screen flashed red, but Mel barely noticed.
Her attention focused on the screaming pain from the shallow furrow along her right forearm. Whatthehell, whatthehell, whatthehell?
The red faded away, leaving the game as before. Mel stared at her arm until a soft warning beep sounded. Once. Twice, a little louder. Three ti—
She cut it off, clicking her last black ball and sliding it into place at the end of the block.
Congratulations, Slither Resident! You have leveled up!
From across the cube farm, a scream started, an anguished cry of pain that went on and on until Mel and Stan and everyone else on the floor had popped up, searching for the source like so many corporate gophers.
“Do you see Luz?” Stan asked.
Mel shook her head. Luz was in accounts receivable, a short, spry woman with a twinkle in her eye and a fondness for bringing delicious home-baked Mexican pastries to share with the office on Fridays.
Oh, God. Had she been playing against Luz? On the game? Jesus Christ, what the hell was happening?
Mel bent to her computer, hitting alt-ctrl-delete as fast as she could. The screen went dark as the computer powered down.
So did the lights.
The rest of the office was still standing, still wondering what was going on. They hadn’t started milling around again, just hanging out in their little cubes, looking at each other. One or two cracked a joke about paying the electric bill.
The darkness grew, cutting off even the small amount of light that came from computer screens and phone flashlights.
No. Oh, God. No.
The light went completely out, the darkness total.
A white light appeared overhead, the illumination slowly spreading until it had evenly lit the entire area where Mel stood with her colleagues. The gray fabric cube walls were gone, replaced by two-inch wide even lines that demarcated where their cubes had been.
It looked exactly like—but how can it be?I
Mel tightened her grasp around the knife in her right hand.
The words formed above them, coalescing from nothing into a familiar, opaque script.
Welcome to Slither, the game where you slide your way to victory!
Like before, Mel made the first move.
* * *
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